2024 Dance Teacher Award of Distinction Honorees Ronald K. Brown and Arcell Cabuag Are Consummate Community-Builders
June 28, 2024

For Ronald K. Brown and Arcell Cabuag, sharing the art form they love as widely as possible isn’t just a mission statement—it’s a calling. 

Whether on tour with Brown’s EVIDENCE, A Dance Company, or at their New York City home base at the Billie Holliday Theatre at Restoration Plaza in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where they direct the organization’s Youth Arts Academy, Brown and Cabuag put community first. In short, if you want to dance, you’re always welcome to join them in the studio. 

Neither of them had a straightforward path into the dance world. After a second-grade field trip to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Brown, a Brooklyn native, took his first dance class at the school he and Cabuag now run—but he didn’t stick around. (He didn’t like being the only boy.) A few years later, Brown set his sights on attending the Dance Theatre of Harlem School, but his mother went into labor with his brother on the day of the audition. Convinced he’d missed his window for serious dance training, Brown turned his focus to creative writing. 

“It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I finally had the courage to figure this dance thing out,” he says. With encouragement from dance teachers including Sally Hipscher, with whom he’d studied at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, Brown let go of a college scholarship for journalism and dove headfirst into studying dance. Only two years later, in 1985, he founded EVIDENCE. 

Cabuag also had his interest piqued by dance at a young age. A first-generation Filipino American growing up in San Jose, California, Cabuag says his parents weren’t sure about a boy taking dance, so they enrolled him in art class. “I’d ask to go to the bathroom, and I’d go watch my sister’s dance class instead!” he recalls. In high school, Cabuag participated in theater, and at a musical audition, choreographer Charles McGowan took him aside: “He told me I was a dancer, and that I needed to be in dance classes. After that, I was able to switch to a performing arts high school, where I got to dance every day.” 

Cabuag met Brown when he attended The Ailey School, where Brown was teaching at the time. Immediately captivated by Brown’s style, Cabuag joined EVIDENCE in 1997; he became associate artistic director in 2004. Over the years, the duo has honed a co-teaching format that friend and colleague Deborah Damast, director of the Dance Education program at New York University, describes as “seamless—one mind, two bodies. From the way they explain the movement to their musical choices to the rep that they include, they are completely unified.” 

Photo by Ernesto Mancebo, courtesy Cabuag.

Still, each has a role to play in the classroom. “The way Arcell teaches is so gentle,” Brown says. “He has so much faith in his students, and because he believes in them, they show up. It’s really beautiful.”  

“Ron makes every student feel comfortable,” Cabuag chimes in. “He wants to go across the floor with every group. If someone’s having a hard time with a step, he’ll do it again and again until they get it. He won’t give up on anybody.” 

In 2015, Brown and Cabuag were asked to direct the pre-professional program at Youth Arts Academy. Now, they lead the whole school. Youth Arts Academy offers classes for ages 3–18, in ballet, hip hop, breaking, West African, Afro-Caribbean, Horton, and more. Once a month, the space opens for community class: All ages and skill levels are welcome. Community class is also available on Zoom. 

“Community class is accessible even to total beginners,” Cabuag says. “We break down: This is how alignment works in the body. This is how you get grounded, how you dance to the rhythms of the music. We will meet you where you are in the room.” 

The pair can often be found teaching master classes around New York City. They’ve led workshops for teachers through the Dance Education Laboratory and have joined Damast and her NYU students on multiple occasions. They also enjoy doing college residencies. Meanwhile, when EVIDENCE is on tour, outreach is and has always been a priority. “We’re not just performing and coming home,” Cabuag says. “We’ve taught at churches, senior citizen homes, centers for people with disabilities, detention centers. We want to dance with the community.” 

Photo by Quinn B Wharton, courtesy Cabuag.

“In a field that can be highly competitive and self-driven, Ron and Arcell have consistently found ways to uplift others and uplift the art form,” Damast says. “They always center love and joy and the act of showing up. It’s not just that they teach a great class—it’s that they teach with such kindness and generosity.” 

“I truly believe that anyone can dance,” Brown admits. “I want to see folks of all ages and abilities in a room together. I want to give every student a safe, loving space where they can have a good time and learn. We’re all trying to grow, and the job of the teacher is to create a space that’s possible for learning.” 

Get your tickets now for the 2024 Dance Teacher Live Workshops & Awards, taking place on Thursday, August 1, 2024 from 9 am–3 pm at The Ailey Studios located in New York City. We can’t wait to see you there!

To read about other 2024 DT awardees, click here.

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